Professor Christopher French provides a measured an illuminating commentary about the traumatic impact of historic sexual abuse allegations on the falsely accused. The article was originally published in the Guardian newspaper in 2009. Professor French is a member of the BFMS Advisory Board and a fellow of the British Psychological Society.
Despite the falling away of media interest, families are still being torn apart when ‘recovered’ memories of childhood sexual abuse are introduced into the minds of vulnerable people.
I have three wonderful daughters – two teenagers and one young adult. I can hardly imagine anything more horrible than the prospect that one of them might one day enter therapy for help with some common psychological problem such as anxiety, insomnia or depression and, at the end of that process, accuse me of childhood sexual abuse on the basis of “recovered” memories. Even though I would know with absolute certainty that such allegations were untrue, the chances are that nothing I could say or do would convince my accusers of this.
A few days ago I sat in a lecture theatre mostly filled with middle-aged or elderly parents living through this exact nightmare. Typically, their adult children had started therapy with no pre-existing memories of being sexually abused, but had become convinced during the therapeutic process that they had indeed been victimised in this way. So convinced were they that the “recovered” memories were true, they more often than not accused their parents directly of this vile act and then cut off any further contact, leaving their parents devastated and confused, their lives shattered.
The occasion in question was the 15th Annual General Meeting of theBritish False Memory Society. The BFMS began life in 1993, the year after the formation of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in the US. Accused parents were at the forefront of founding both organisations. Both have scientific and professional advisory boards to support them in their aims, which include providing support – including legal assistance where necessary – to those affected by such accusations, providing information and advice to professionals, and improving our understanding of false memories by encouraging and supporting academic and professional research.